Robots that can remotely launch rockets are a step closer after two Australian companies proved the technology with a prototype demonstration, announced in Poland.The units could be used by military ground forces to push rocket launches closer to an enemy or achieve tactical advantage while keeping their soldiers out of harm’s way.
Black Sky Aerospace (BSA) has a track record of rapid rocket and missile innovation. To demonstrate the capability, it has teamed with Funnel Web Systems (FWS), an Australian robot developer that builds portable ground robots for defence and industrial applications.
BSA CEO Blake Nikolic said the development could keep soldiers safer as it gives ground units the tactical advantage. “People think of robots as sensor platforms, load carriers, and for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tasks: but we give them fangs,” Nikolic said. “We can see use-cases such as for Ukraine where a missile needs to launch from a location that might put soldiers at too much risk or be otherwise inaccessible,” he said. “The Funnel Web can push into new areas and wait for targets to present, and then be command-launched remotely. The rockets themselves can be tailored to the intended use, geography and required effects.”
Named after the deadly Australian spider, the Funnel Web is a rugged, highly mobile platform that can be rapidly deployed. It uses military grade communications and a hand controller that makes it easy for anyone to operate.
Andre Preller, head of systems engineering for FWS says that the ability to field innovative robots will become a key advantage in future warfare. “What is happening in Ukraine now demonstrates that an innovation cycle needs to react to evolving threats and opportunities. The cycle needs to be three weeks, not three years, and that’s what we’re good at.”
Black Sky’s General Manager of Defence and National Security, James Baker says the company’s latest round of rocket innovation reinforces its pedigree of rapid development. “From when we discussed the idea to launch took a little under a week,” Baker said. “We are in Poland at the moment and here, just across the border from the Ukraine conflict, you can feel the urgency for development of game-changing technologies,” he said. “With the urgent international security situation in our own region of the Indo Pacific, Defence innovations need to get proven or rejected in days and weeks, not years. We have vast private ranges In Australia – one of them is three million acres – so we use our own testing grounds where ideas can be validated or vetoed at speed.”
In December 2022, BSA launched guided weapons from a standard commercial utility vehicle, and in early 2023 from a flatbed Unimog.